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An Introduction to Workplace Sexual Harassment in Ontario


In Canada, while sexual assault is considered a criminal offence under the Criminal Code, sexual harassment is not. However, sexual harassment can still cause significant psychological, emotional, and physical harm, and employers and perpetrators can face serious consequences if this behaviour occurs in the workplace. Legislation like the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”) and the Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code”) holds employers responsible for providing their employees with a safe and respectful work environment. Here’s what employers should know about these laws and sexual harassment.

Legislation on Workplace Sexual Harassment

Under the Code, sexual harassment is a form of discrimination. The Code states that everyone has the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of, among other things, sex, including in the area of employment. Employers are required to prevent and respond to sexual harassment in the workplace. This includes the following duties:

  • taking complaints seriously;
  • responding to human rights issues quickly;
  • having procedures to deal with sexual harassment;
  • notifying the victim of the steps being taken to deal with the issue; and
  • providing resources to the employee.

In 2016, Bill 132 made amendments to the OHSA to include sexual harassment in its definition of workplace harassment. Employers are required to create a written policyon workplace harassment and a program to implement the policy. These must be posted in a conspicuous location in the workplace and reviewed at least once a year.

What is considered sexual harassment?

While the OHSA defines sexual harassment, it can be difficult to apply that definition to assess situations that arise in the workplace. If you are unsure of whether something classifies as sexual harassment, speak with one of our HR advisors. Ultimately, if the interaction is unwelcome and sexual in any way, it is likely to be considered sexual harassment. It is important to recognize that what one person considers appropriate behaviour, including jokes, can be offensive to someone else. Sexual harassment might include the following:

  • inappropriate leering or staring;
  • comments or jokes that are sexual or offensive;
  • sending inappropriate or offensive material;
  • bragging about sexual prowess; and
  • unwelcome and inappropriate physical contact.

Employers must take all complaints seriously and address them immediately in order to protect their employees and their business and stay compliant with the law.

Is your business prepared to handle a sexual harassment complaint?

Speak with our HR experts to get help drafting workplace harassment policies and programs, learn about other employer obligations pertaining to sexual harassment, and get advice if you are dealing with a complaint. Call us today at: 1 (888) 795-1242